TapIs this the future of Home Computing?

Disclaimer: Although I work for HP, I have no contact with the division responsible for this product. All views expressed are my own.

I have always thought that home computing has never got out of the hobbyist mindset of the Sinclair Spectrum and BBC home Micro. They require deep knowledge to get the best out of them, require regular maintenance and are forever going wrong in little (how do I do that) or big (BSOD) ways. This puts a lot of people off. To really take off as a universal resource, it needs to be a commodity like your TV; you just plug it in and go. Is this possible for a computer—it is if you stop thinking of it as a computer, that was out of date at the turn of the century. People use these devices to create and read documents, do research, consume entertainment in the form of pictures, video, music and games—only the odd spread sheet could be called computing. So, look at this…

HP recently launched a product called the DreamScreen 400 but you may not have heard of it because it was developed in India for the Indian market. It is well worth taking a look at because it is quite revolutionary and yet derivative at the same time.

It is very targeted to those homes that do not have computer technology already. It is very low cost—less than £300 and does not assume any prior knowledge of computers or even the internet, that is all hidden away. I have no information about the storage mechanism, but I would hope that it is transparent like the iPad, not requiring any understanding of folders.

It is uses standard components which is how the cost is kept down—18.5″ TouchSmart screen, probably an Intel processor, internet connection, webcam & microphone, SD card slot, DVD drive, 4 x USB sockets and probably a Linux operating system with a custom UI bolted on top. I have seen no mention of a wireless connection, DVD burner or what storage capacity but the specification is pretty comprehensive. There is multiple account capability for each member of the family to be kept separate and, presumably, some sort of parental control system. The applications are clearly targeted at the growing middle class of India with emphasis on education, entertainment and running a home. They include eMail, video chat, downloaded and DVD video, music, games, documents, spreadsheets, presentations (I don’t know what formats), news, finance, travel and educational material geared to the Indian curriculum. For the more adventurous there is generic web browsing using Firefox with custom extensions.

The interface is very iPad like, including touch scrolling, and you could say that it is a large screen, permanently docked iPad. There is a mouse, and I think arm-ache would make this almost essential, and a USB keyboard. The latter would only be really required if you wanted to create documents, there is a multi-language on-screen keyboard for simple things like search terms. You can also attach certain (HP only?) USB printers.

This has clearly been engineered to a price with a limited development teams but with a rich array of “Apps”, including third-party developers, I could see this really fulfilling the requirements of any family even in the western world—Will HP pull it off or someone else like Apple with a iMac/iPad hybrid? That remains to be seen.

Update: [14 Dec] I was walking around Maplin and spotted on the discount shelf an MSI Wind Top AE1900. This is so similar to the DreamScreen 400 that the latter is surely just re-badged and with custom software. The MSI came with Wireless-N and is/was almost twice the price.

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